The music of the 50s comes to an end. The year 1959 represents the culmination of a way of understanding music and life, and with the beginning of the next decade, everything changes abruptly. Jazz will lose its interest, making it a great year to remember for its enthusiasts (Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, etc.). Rock will start to harden, pushing the boundaries every day, pop and rock will start to be understood as one, along with modern folk, and the concept of vocal groups and melodic singers, although still present (especially in Spanish and Italian), will gradually lose strength as we can also see in our selection of top songs of 1959.
But all of that will be seen in the list of songs from the 60s. For now, the most important thing is that we can finally offer you the 100 songs from the 50s that we had promised. First, let’s set the stage. Between the top hits of 1959 you will find Edith Piaf in her comeback after her post-war successes. Also Jacques Brel, Bobby Darin, and, of course (given its significance even today), the great Nat King Cole with his songs in his characteristic Spanish. If we talk about films, 1959 is the year of Some Like It Hot, of North by Northwest, of two of Masaki Kobayashi’s best films. Also the year when Satyajit Ray completes his Apu Trilogy.
Playlist with hit songs of 1959 and all the decade
1959 Music in English
Bobby Darin – Beyond The Sea
As one YouTube comment about Bobby Darin puts it, in comparison to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (both of whom had great voices, of course), what stands out the most about Darin’s voice is that he could have sung any genre of music. When you hear him hit his upper range, he has a deep quality that would have been perfect for late 50s and 60s vocal rock. He also has a fantastic operatic tone and is a great tenor. And if you’ve ever heard the opening of “Up A Lazy River,” it’s undeniable that his smooth, melodic voice is one of the best in the industry. The guy would have been famous singing anything. He didn’t have to sing the “standards.”
Bobby Darin – Mack The Knife
That being said, not much more can be added in terms of eloquence. While “Mack The Knife” was adapted into Spanish as “Makinavaja,” “Beyond The Sea” was an original version by Charles Trenet, another classic of music, and one we’ll remember quite well if we ever delve into the 1940s (or focus on the interwar period).
Johnny & The Hurricanes – Red River Rock
If this song doesn’t put you in a good mood, few things will.
Louis Prima – Fever
We open the decade with him, practically, and we close it with him. A versatile artist within and outside of music, although almost always associated with that part of the profession. One of his most celebrated songs, although you might prefer to listen to another version.
Marilyn Monroe – I Wanna Be Loved By You
Marilyn Monroe stood out much more for her acting career, but in that role, she was also able to develop her singing skills, demonstrating her talent beyond what many critics think or thought.
Neil Sedaka – Oh! Carol
For many, “Oh! Carol” is actually a guilty pleasure, if that’s still compatible.
Paul Anka – Put Your Head On My Shoulder
Following up is Paul Anka, who along with Neil Sedaka represent the purest romance of the 50s in us, which ends here and gives way to a new musical era that will increasingly push aside these kinds of youthful and romantic melodies.
Rosemary Clooney & Pérez Prado – Sway
If you know anyone who has attended dance classes at some point, and they trust you, they’ve probably played you this song a thousand times. We don’t know if it was the same before, but if it was, its proliferation might have been favored by its appearance in the movie with Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere (we’re not sure if it also appeared in the original Korean movie).
The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Take Five
Representing all the options and tastes of that time, here’s a bit of jazz.
The Isley Brothers – Shout
See how the group evolves over the decades. It’s a pleasure.
The Platters – Only You
1959 Music in French, Spanish and Portuguese
Edith Piaf – Milord
The great French artist of the decade, and like Trenet, also from past decades. The post-war, war, and between-war songs were quite active musically in France.
Edith Piaf was a courageous woman who sang songs with double meanings and boldness, living her life with absolute intensity, both for better and for worse, and captivated the world in a very tumultuous era. Without a doubt, she left us a legacy that will hardly be forgotten.
This lively song makes us imagine ourselves dancing in a cabaret, listening to Edith’s unmistakable voice with its peculiar way of pronouncing ‘r’ sounds, accompanied by an accordion. It’s the story of a girl who encourages a man to have a good time with her to forget his heartaches.
Gloria Lasso – Luna De Miel
Although Gloria Lasso began singing at just 15 years old, it wasn’t until the early 50s, when she was nearly 30, that her talent was recognized in Madrid, where she worked as a radio show host. However, being a divorced woman in those times wasn’t well regarded, and she had to go to France where she achieved the deserved success she deserved without prejudices. In the mid-60s, she moved to Mexico where she continued to share her music.
The melody of “Luna De Miel” was used for the film of the same name in 1959, which wasn’t very successful as it was considered full of embarrassing clichés for Spain. However, it’s undeniable that the version with Gloria’s voice and the accompanying instruments make this love song a very beautiful piece.
Jacques Brel – La Valse A Mille Temps
If there’s one thing we can say about the Belgian Jacques Brel, it’s that he’s one of the greatest representatives of Chanson Française. His songs have been performed by other French artists and even translated and performed in other languages. At just 24 years old, he was already making his debut in Paris, and by the mid-50s, he was touring Europe. His songs are characterized by their poetic nature, use of rhetorical figures, wordplay, and addressing all sorts of topics as he saw them.
“La Valse A Mille Temps” seems like a tongue twister that only Jacques had the talent to recite at that speed, elegance, and with a unique cadence. We can truly imagine ourselves dancing a waltz on a Parisian street, feeling all the emotions that Jacques describes about falling in love.
Jacques Brel – Ne Me Quitte Pas
In 1959, Jacques Brel recorded what would become his most successful and emotionally charged song, full of sadness, desperation, fear of being abandoned, which he sings with a lot of feeling. He wrote it after breaking up with Suzanne Gabriello “Zizou,” a lover he abandoned when she was pregnant.
Under the name “If You Go Away,” it was performed by Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, Cindy Lauper, and even Julio Iglesias. In French, it was sung by Charles Aznavour, Nina Simone, Sting, Miguel Bosé, or Mari Trini. In German, “Bitte, Geh Nicht Fort” was sung by Marlene Dietrich. In Portuguese, under the title “Não me deixes mais,” it was sung by Fagner. And we could go on with a long list, but we’ll leave that for the curious ones.
João Gilberto – Desafinado
Brazilian singer João Gilberto is considered (along with Tom Jobim) one of the creators of bossa nova. His biggest hit is “Garota de Ipanema,” which brought fame to Astrud Gilberto, João’s then-wife, and has been endlessly covered.
In the song “Desafinado,” João sings a reproach, slow and relaxing with jazz influences, directed at a beloved who criticizes him for singing out of tune. He responds that even out-of-tune people have a heart and suffer from such attacks.
José Luis Y Su Guitarra – Mariquilla
José Luis from Jaén was studying Civil Engineering in Madrid and in his free time, he dedicated himself to music. He learned to play the guitar and was even part of the university’s “tuna” (musical group). The fact that his performances were just him and his guitar was a change from the modern music of the time, which usually involved orchestras. This practically made him the first singer-songwriter in Spanish music.
“Mariquilla” is a simple and beautiful song he dedicated to his girlfriend, who later became his wife. It became very successful, even reaching Argentina. In this same year, 1959, it appeared in the film “Pasa la Tuna,” José Luis’s first movie.
In 1962, he secured a civil servant position in Civil Engineering and left his music career to focus on his professional career and family.
Monna Bell – Un Telegrama
Chilean singer Monna Bell started her musical journey on the radio in her home country, singing ballads with hints of jazz and blues, which was innovative and different among Latin artists. She gained attention and soon became known in Europe. In fact, she holds the title of the first winner of the Benidorm Song Festival with her song “Un Telegrama,” no small feat. Monna also participated in several movies in Mexico.
In this fun love song, a telegram is sent to the lady’s heart, with the address near the sky and the sender being the enamored’s eyes. Monna tells the story with great joy and happiness because the love is reciprocated. Monna’s styling in the music video, with those characteristic 50s and 60s full skirts, is also worth appreciating.
Nat King Cole – Ansiedad
It’s undeniable that Nat King Cole (singing in Spanish or not) was one of the greatest singers and pianists of the jazz and swing era. He was always connected to music—his mother played the organ in church, and she was the one who taught him to play the piano. The family lived in a neighborhood with several jazz clubs, so Nat grew up listening to Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and others.
His passion was so strong that Nat eventually started his music career on the piano with his group. Although he sang some ballads, he was embarrassed by his voice and only began singing solo years later. In the late 50s, he dared to sing in Spanish, which catapulted him to worldwide fame.
“Ansiedad” is a song composed by the Venezuelan José Enrique “Chelique” Sarabia. While performing in Venezuela, Nat asked the host about a famous song from the country. The host responded with this beautiful song, which Nat memorized despite not knowing Spanish. Today, it’s one of the artist’s most celebrated songs.
Nat King Cole – Aquellos Ojos Verdes
Nat King Cole was the first African American to have a radio program, and later, he was the first to have a television program. He always fought against racism, never yielding to threats and attempts to expel him from various places. This led to attacks, insults, and scorn throughout his life. Fortunately, he never gave in and continued to fight for the rights of Black people until his death.
The bolero “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” was originally composed by Cubans Adolfo Utrera and Nilo Menéndez in 1929 and has been covered by many artists, including Nat King Cole, who included it in his album “A mis amigos” released in 1959, alongside “Ansiedad” and “Perfidia.”
Nat King Cole – Perfidia
Even though he left us at just 45 years old, Nat King Cole’s legacy lives on and will continue to do so forever. He was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame. It’s a shame he didn’t live to see it. He’s also the artist with the most singles released with the Capitol Records label, a record that has yet to be matched.
“Perfidia” is a bolero originally composed by the Mexican Alberto Domínguez in 1939 and has been covered by numerous artists, including Nat King Cole. With his unique and inimitable way of singing in Spanish, Nat’s boleros talk about love and heartbreak with a special and unique grace.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.